Monday, January 31, 2011

Higher Orders of Science

*This is the second in a series of guest posts from CCMM Communications Director Jennifer Courtney. See also Higher Orders of Math*


Just like the illustrations from mathematics in the last post, memorization is central to success in the sciences as well. Your brain cannot memorize formulas, figure out which ones to use, and evaluate the results all at the same time.

Think about students of biology who have already memorized animal classifications, students of physiology who have memorized organ systems, students of chemistry who have memorized the periodic table, and students of physics who have memorized Newton’s Laws of Motion and the laws of thermodynamics.

These are the students who can immediately leap into the logic and rhetoric applications of their knowledge.

Remember, people only object to rote memorization when they conceive of it as cramming for a test and then forgetting the information or memorizing facts without going on to apply those facts to higher orders of thinking.

*To read more about the importance of memorization, check out A House With a Foundation. For more information about the Classical Conversations Foundations Program,

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Leigh Is Going Global

Good news! I'm starting to gather the dates for my 2011 speaking schedule, and this year, for the first time, I'll be traveling internationally, starting with a visit to Okinawa, Japan in April.

Speaking Schedule / March-April 2011

March 6-12 Midwest Tour: WV, IN, IL, IA, NE (dates and locations TBD)

March 17-19 Southeast Homeschool Convention

April - Pacific side

Okinawa on April 1 & 2 Cancelled, Please pray for the people of Japan!

Honolulu on April 8 & 9

Stay tuned for more details about dates and locations as the events get closer. Visit the CC Event Calendar for information about events near you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Blog Talk Starts for 2011

It's that time of year again!

Starting next Wednesday, Feb. 2 Feb. 9, join me on Wednesdays for my BlogTalkRadio show, Leigh! at Lunch. Log in to chat, call in live, or just listen as we talk about classical education, home schooling, and other issues you care about. Stay tuned for information about my first guest!

In the meantime, you can catch up on any archived shows you might have missed by going to Register as a listener and add me as a friend now (here's how!) to be eligible for our weekly drawings and prizes.

Last year I talked to NASA astronaut and homeschool dad Col. James P. Dutton, Andrew Pudewa, Dr. Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr. and many others. In the past, I've also interviewed Gov. Mike Huckabee, Mike Smith, president of HSLDA, and Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation.

If you'd like to suggest a guest or a topic, please email me at or leave a comment on this post.

Let's start talking!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Leigh Bortins Response to 2011 State of the Union Address

Last night, our president addressed this nation on a multitude of topics with his vision for the future of America. A considerable portion of that address was on the topic of education. Much of what he said was right.

It is absolutely correct that our future, the future of any people, is dependent on future generations of well-educated children. These children need to be thoroughly educated, and the importance of math and science is especially in need of emphasis.

As the CEO and founder of Classical Conversations, Inc., a leader in home education, I greatly appreciate the president’s stressing that the responsibility for educating our children resides in the home, and it is the “family that first instills the love of learning in a child.” Removing top-down mandates and restoring local authority over education is a move in the right direction; a move I affirm.

However, these can only be the beginning. President Obama stressed that “nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree.” While employment is a practical outcome of a good education, it is not the goal of a good education. Children are not to be educated so that they can learn a skill and earn a good job. The skill they should be learning is how to learn, not how to manufacture wares. The reason we fear one type of job going overseas is because our education has not enabled us how to learn the necessary skills for another job. We should rejoice with Kathy Proctor, who is earning a degree in biotechnology, so that she can earn a living in another field outside of furniture manufacturing. We should rejoice with her for doing what all of us should be able to do, but are afraid of because our education didn’t give us the skill of how to learn.

The president also discussed the importance of “high expectations” and “high performance,” schools that don’t “meet this test,” and “standards” developed by governors throughout the country. He also referenced statistics such as, America is “ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.” The point is missed. Children are souls, created to be loved and nurtured, not statistics or test scores. Life is not a series of multiple-choice-#2-pencil-bubblesheet tests. Life is something we live, in which we are constantly learning. Yet, in the very stages of development where our children are being prepared for life, they are being taught to become test scores and statistics in the number of high school diplomas or college degrees being awarded.

Of course, standards, testing, and statistics are necessary tools in the education of children when the responsibility of educating them is being shared with “our schools.” These schools are responsible to their district school boards, their state government, and ultimately to the federal government if they want any funding. And these agencies are so distant from the actual child being educated that this student becomes a series of test scores and grades on a stack of papers or a computer screen. Just consider the hubris of Washington to think it knows what is best for the education of children in Vermont and New Mexico. But let’s not stop there. Consider the hubris, too, of my own North Carolina government in Raleigh to think that it knows what is best for the education of the children in Boone. Or, that the Moore County school board knows what is best for little Johnny Smith living on the opposite side of the county.

Responsibility doesn’t only begin in the home, it resides in the home. Only Johnny’s family knows what is best for his learning. And when she doesn’t, or more likely, doesn’t think she does, there is a community out there to help her. But the community doesn’t exist to create or impose standards on Johnny. How can they have the authority to do so when they don’t even have the responsibility to do so? They are there to provide guidance, advice, and assistance to the family who is responsible to do so.

So, while working toward a brighter future for America might include the reforms President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union Address, it cannot be anything more than the beginning of its reform. Ultimately, education must be a means by which our children are nurtured, not recorded as statistics. And the responsibility for nurturing them must remain with the family, not pulled out from under them and put into the hands of a bureaucracy hundreds of miles away.

Higher Orders of Math

*Thanks to CCMM Communications Director Jennifer Courtney for this guest post*

I used to tutor geometry. Every fall, about the time mid-term grades came in, my answering machine was full of calls from frustrated parents. Memorization is especially key here because your brain cannot memorize formulas, apply them by plugging in numbers, and prove that they are true at the same time.

I am convinced that these students would have been more successful if they had memorized the formulas for area and circumference and a few other simple things like the Pythagorean theorem long before they were asked to use them.

Then, when this knowledge is solid, they need to apply it by plugging in numbers and solving the equations.

Finally, they will be ready to graduate to the rhetoric stage of geometry which is proving that the theorems are true.

The same is true in Algebra. It’s difficult to think about mathematical formulas with letters when you haven’t learned how to think about them with numbers.

Students must be able to recite the multiplication tables in their sleep before approaching the abstract concepts of algebra. They would be helped by memorizing the laws that we memorize in Foundations.

Then, they can identify equations which use these laws. Then, they can plug in numbers and demonstrate that the laws hold true.

Finally, they will be able to write and solve equations with letters.

People only object to rote memorization when they conceive of it as cramming for a test and then forgetting the information or memorizing facts without going on to apply those facts to higher orders of thinking.

*To read more about the importance of memorization, check out A House With a Foundation. For more information about the Classical Conversations Foundations Program, visit*

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rhetoric and the State

If you missed tonight's State of the Union address by President Barack Obama, check out the full text from NPR here and visit the White House government site to find video of the speech and responses.

This is a great opportunity to talk about political rhetoric with your family. First, refresh your memory with this overview of classical rhetoric from the CiRCE Institute. Be on the lookout for these key elements, and analyze how effectively they were used:
  • Invention – discovery of matter
  • Arrangement – ordering of the matter discovered
  • Elocution – appropriate expression of the matter
  • Memory – retention of the matter in the speaker's mind
  • Delivery – the oral presentation of the matter

Also, check this list of classical rhetorical figures from the University of Kentucky. See how many you can identify in the President's speech! Was that an example of anadiplosis or antistrophe?

Finally, to practice thinking about the importance of words, visit and look at the number of times and instances in which Presidents over the years have used loaded words like "government," "debt," "investment," "constitution," "defense," and "honesty."

However you approach it, take advantage of this chance to share as a family some honest and open conversation about, first, what it means to participate in representative government; and second, what it means to use your words with wisdom and purpose.

Good night!

Monday, January 24, 2011

A House With a Foundation

Last week, we talked about debates over the value of "rote learning." According to the most recent stats on the Waiting for Superman web poll, 44% of readers think rote learning provides content, while 42% think learning by rote is a passive act. In other words, this site's readers are pretty evenly split.

And yet if you go to Google News and type in "education," after stories about "achievement" and "funding," chances are, one of the top hits will be something about global competitiveness in science and math.

Americans are supremely concerned about how well our children are doing compared to the rest of the world, particularly in these subject areas. We're told children are the key to future economic success, but only if they go on to perform well in engineering, medical research, and technology. And to do that, they need to start in high school math and science classes.

Let's pause and think. What's one thing that makes high school chemistry challenging?

Memorizing the Periodic Table.

What's one thing that makes Algebra tough?

Remembering the quadratic formula.

What's one thing that makes Anatomy difficult?

Learning the names of the bones.

Do you see a pattern? Sure, we have reference books and calculators to help, but if you have to look up every step of a 20-step problem, it will take a lot longer and be a lot more frustrating.

All of a sudden, after years of telling children memorization isn't important, we want high school and college students to do a lot of it in order to succeed in math and science. By this point, however, they haven't spent enough time stretching their brains. It's hard work. It doesn't come naturally.

So, if we tell educators memorization isn't important, that it's optional and supplementary -- even when children are young and it comes easily -- is it any wonder that we see a decline in the fields that most prominently require it?

What do you think?

(This week, stop back by to hear more on this subject with guest posts by Jennifer Courtney.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Day in the Life

As our final set of boys become men, all the rewards of home schooling become apparent. Previously, I've spent much time writing about raising little boys. I know home schooling parents are often interested in A Day in the Life of a home schooling family, so I thought I'd share some of our eventful day.
Wednesday, January 9, 2011
8am: Rummaged around for house plumbing plans as plumber arrived to repair awful smell from master bedroom. Looked at plans with Rob and William. Watched the plumber use scope up all the pipes and vents.

9am: Worked through a chapter of Don't Check Your Brains at the Door as today's devotional with family.

10am: Plumber and contractor left; CC MultiMedia team arrived for advertising discussion. David and William completed math assignment.

11am: William and my videographer, Tobin, checked recording devices to ensure they were ready to record audio for this summer's Parent Practicums. David still working at completing assignments.

12noon: Lunched at a local diner with boys and team. Discussed the nuances in well-written dramas and comedies. Greeted neighbors. Conferred with a friend in the restaurant over plans to build a light aircraft this summer. Greeted Keith Denton who had come up from SC to help CC for the day. He was lunching with IT guy, Chris Sanford. We like living in a small town.

1pm: Team went to office for a training in Microsoft Excel. Tim, another IT guy, did a really good job. I'll bring the boys to the next session. They had guitar lessons while I was at office. I'll have to reschedule guitar so they can learn Excel Pivot tables each Wednesday.

2pm: Reviewed Parent Practicum recording with Tobin. William worked on essay and helped IT guy install software and new hardware. David played basketball.

3pm: Worked on Advertising Rate Cards with team. Spent a lot of time on phone with Robert in SC as he is helping with the advertising.

5pm: Discussion with IT team.

6pm: Sloppy Joe and veggie dinner with family as contractors and IT guys and CCMM team left.

7pm: Art instructor gave lessons to the boys and six friends in our craft room. Greeted friends as they dropped off children ages 5 to 17 for lessons from a CC Dad, Paul Rizzo. Cleaned up kitchen and the last of Christmas decorations with Rob.

8pm: Worked on this blog entry while listening to Paul tell the students interesting stories about his day as a public school teacher. Tobin is filming the stories as Paul is fascinating and many of the students are excellent artists. They love to listen as they sketch.

9pm: The boys leave for their writing club. They meet twice a week to develop plots and characters with a handful of other writers. They will be back after I'm in bed. I will probably watch a movie as I watch Rob fall asleep in the chair.


Love, Leigh

Monday, January 17, 2011

Community at CC

January is a busy month for us at CC. Just today, we have information meetings and open houses going on in Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Virginia, California, Louisiana, North Carolina, Missouri, Texas, Georgia, and Minnesota!

If you're interested in the classical model, or if you're compelled to home school your children but don't feel equipped to do it alone, check out our Event Calendar to find out what's going on in a community near you, and come talk to the people who make CC what it is every day.

Remember, we don't think parents know everything, but we know that each child is uniquely (and wonderfully!) made, and we also believe that the people who know and love a child best are the ones most motivated to help that child succeed. You can do it!

(From our homepage, click on the map at the top of the screen to find your local community.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Waiting for Rote Learning

After the documentary film Waiting for Superman hit theaters last year, the website has been hosting a range of debates about educational practices and issues.

One of the latest is: Debate: Does Rote Learning Have a Place in the Classroom? (Click on the link to add your opinion and see what others are saying. Thanks to those who've mentioned The Core!)

At Classical Conversations, our Foundations program is based on the fact that young children's brains are naturally wired to memorize. The Classical Model emphasizes mastery of facts during the early years. This gives students a foundation on which to build later learning and a solid framework where ideas can be categorized and compared as students mature.

See this excerpt from Dorothy Sayers' "The Lost Tools of Learning":
Looking back upon myself (since I am the child I know best and the only child I can pretend to know from inside) I recognize three states of development. These, in a rough-and- ready fashion, I will call the Poll-Parrot, the Pert, and the Poetic--the latter coinciding, approximately, with the onset of puberty. The Poll-Parrot stage is the one in which learning by heart is easy and, on the whole, pleasurable; whereas reasoning is difficult and, on the whole, little relished. At this age, one readily memorizes the shapes and appearances of things; one likes to recite the number-plates of cars; one rejoices in the chanting of rhymes and the rumble and thunder of unintelligible polysyllables; one enjoys the mere accumulation of things...

In Foundations we also spend time doing fine arts and science experiments, because young children thrive in hands-on learning, but hands-on learning builds from -- and depends on -- the terms, methods, and information they're memorizing.

I think this reader (Dr. Phil Rutherford / Australia) on Waiting for Superman says it well. He comments, "Research and experience tells me that learning by rote does more than just enable a student to recall facts or mathematical solutions - it helps shape the brain so that any kind or depth of knowledge can be gained, stored and recalled at will. Critics of rote learning only look at the action, not the result. And this result is a lifetime of more effective and efficient brain activity. Getting rid of rote learning does nothing but condemn a child to useless brain activity."

What's your take on the question? What terms do we need to define in this debate?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

S(c)i(e)nce You Asked...

Some of the best teaching moments come when you can combine learning with something your children can touch and experience right then.

The storms that have dropped snow on 49 out of 50 states are a teaching moment that home school, private school, and public school parents alike can take advantage of, and you don't have to make learning an "either/or" with having fun.

"Let's go build a snowman!"

Later, when you're warming up with some hot chocolate: "I wonder why some snow packs more easily than others? Let's look at these Frequently Asked Questions about snow."

"We're about out of marshmallows. Will stores be closed again tomorrow?"

"Let's take a look at the National Weather Service website. Do you know how to read a weather map? Let's figure it out. What does an "advisory" mean? How is that different from a warning? What is lake effect snow? Let's search the NWS glossary to find out!"

When the kids start getting restless again: "Is there enough snow for a snow fort? Now it's time for a snowball fight!"

Pleasantly tired: "I wonder who gets the most snow in the United States? Let's look at some facts from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Why do people in the Southeast get less snow than people in the Midwest? Well, what causes snow? Let's look in our science book and find out."

Later: "Can you catch a snowflake? Look at how detailed it is. Do you know what a man called Wilson Bentley did? He took pictures of more than 2,400 unique snowflakes. That's what the phrase 'no two snowflakes are alike' means. Let's look at his website together. He's called a photomicographer. Isn't that a great word? What does it mean? Let's look it up. Would you like to look at some snowflakes yourself? Let's try." (Here's a webpage from Family Education with suggestions for how to do it.)
See what I mean? Now watch out for that snowball!

What is your favorite way to get your children excited about the wonder of creation?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

January Savings from CC Books

January 1-31
10% off Cycle 2 Audio, Memory Work Resource CD, and Memory Flashcards!

Now is the time to start preparing your students to be Memory Masters. Take advantage of this special on tools that can really help!

*Audio CD, Memory Work Resource CD, and Memory Master Cards *Online orders only *DISCOUNT10 coupon can be used for an additional 10% off on purchases over $250. *Free media mail shipping still applies for purchases over $150!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Did you make a New Year's resolution? If you did, there is a 99 percent chance that it has something to do with food and losing weight. I'd like to propose a resolution that you could commit to right now and still eat dessert.

We all know the story of The Miracle Worker. Poor Helen Keller was deaf, mute, and blind due to an illness in infancy. Her parents let her always have her way because life was just so hard and so unfair to their beloved daughter. As is true anytime a child gets their way all the time, Helen's parents were raising a beast instead of a human. Life was ugly, but they knew in their hearts that something should be done to help Helen cope, so they hired Annie Sullivan to be her teacher. The parents prayed for a child who could merely behave and not embarrass them. They looked at Helen and only saw disabilities and limitations; Annie looked at Helen and saw potential. It was Annie's determination that enabled Helen to become a woman who would speak to kings and write for nations.

Which kind of parent or educator are you? A Mr. Keller or an Annie Sullivan? We all have a worldview, a foundational way of thinking. Is yours that we are what we are and should act according to our nature? I am a Christian woman who believes we are to rise above our natures and equip our children to do the same. We are to look at our children and say, "Child, you are called to lead great causes for Christ, and I want you equipped to show the world the fruit of the Spirit."

Many CC parents are already Annie Sullivans. If you're not one already, make it your New Year's resolution to become an Annie Sullivan and empower your children to become leaders, writers, speakers, and ambassadors for Christ!

I wish you and your family a God-blessed, Christ-centered, and Spirit-filled 2011,
Love, Leigh